PARK SLOPE — NYPD officers in patrol cars trailed a group of black teens walking through Park Slope and told them over their loudspeakers to "get out of the neighborhood," a resident who witnessed the incident said.
The incident happened Sept. 22 about 2:45 p.m. on Ninth Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, witness Sara Bennett said at a 78th Precinct Community Council meeting Tuesday night.
"I was really really upset and disturbed, not by the kids, but by the way the police were yelling at them to get out of the neighborhood," Bennett told police at the meeting. She said there were about five or six kids in the group and they appeared to be about 16 years old. The police had the dome lights on the top of their squad cars illuminated, but their sirens were off, Bennett said.
Commanding Officer Capt. Frank DiGiacomo told those present at the meeting that he wasn't aware of the specific incident. However, he confirmed that his officers routinely try to move large groups of young people out of the neighborhood because clusters of teens have created problems recently at the Atlantic Center Mall.
He added that two of his officers were kicked in the face while breaking up fights at the mall.
"We've had have large fights…and things stemming over to Barclays Center and things stemming over to robberies and assaults,” DiGiacomo said. "When one or two are hanging out, it’s never a problem, but when we have large groups of kids together and we don't ask them to move or go somewhere else, they become a larger group, and that’s when we get assaults."
DiGiacomo said he's working with the Barclays Center and school safety officers to come up with after-school programs that will keep kids off the streets.
Bennett, a former criminal defense lawyer, pointed out that Ninth Street and Seventh Avenue isn't very close to the mall — it's a mile and a half away.
DiGiacomo responded by saying that “most of the crimes that happen in our command are from outside people committing the crimes." He added, "if [teens] are not playing basketball, you’re not playing soccer, you’re not doing something productive in the neighborhood, I can see [officers] moving them.”
Bennett said she was so upset by the incident that she notified City Councilman Brad Lander's office, and called the John Jay Educational Campus, the building on Seventh Avenue and Fourth Street that houses several high schools drawing students from across the borough.
Lander's office confirmed that they received Bennett's call and are looking into the incident.
“If you’re outside [the private] Berkeley Carroll school, you're not yelling at kids to leave the neighborhood," Bennett told police at the meeting. "But if you’re outside John Jay Campus, you're telling kids to leave the neighborhood, and it's just something that feels really disrespectful to the young black youth in the neighborhood.”
Bennett added of the black teens, "They were just walking down the street."